For the majority of Americans, when you talk about travel rewards most will default their thinking to programs offered by airlines along with the associated perks and, more so, the restrictions that come with them. That’s where the loyalty programs from hotels come in. They tend to offer greater flexibility and fewer restrictions than their flying counterparts and as John Bartold, the Vice President of Loyalty Solutions at Epsilon, puts it, “Hotel programs have matured and become more robust.” When utilized properly they are a great loyalty investment not only for the frequent business traveler but also for the average traveler who may only take one or two vacations a year.

For the frequent business traveler, maximizing hotel rewards will entail more than just earning points—it will mean striving for elite status with one or more of the programs to make use of the benefits that come with that status. For the average traveler the focus is more so on the points earned but should not exclude a push for status. What does a focused hotel rewards strategy for an average traveler mean? It can mean traveling more luxuriously on a vacation by being able to use frequent guest points to redeem for a hotel on the beach rather than staying at a property six blocks off the beach that would have been originally budgeted for.

"It has become industry standard for the majority of the hotel programs to run system-wide promotions every quarter that offer various rewards like bonus points, gift cards or free nights."

By following these five steps, the infrequent or frequent traveler can make sure they are maximizing their hotel reward programs:

Book your stay with a hotel chain

Most hotel loyalty programs will require you to book directly with them whether it is online or by phone to earn points and elite status stay credits. If you book via a third party travel website chances are you will not earn points for your stay. “Make sure you set your preferences properly as some programs offer points per stay or points per dollar,” Bartold states. “If you are at a budget hotel it may be better to earn a flat amount of points rather than points per dollar.”

Focus on one program

While you don’t want to put all your eggs into one basket, if you spread all your stays across many hotel programs, chances are you’ll never earn enough points for a free night or enough credits for elite status. By trying to focus on one program you will ensure that you are rewarded for your loyalty to that program with enough points for some great redemption opportunities. When picking your program don’t just look at the earn side, look at the redemption side as well. For example, does the program have properties in desirable locations that you would want to redeem for?

Tie in a co-branded credit card

If at all possible, you will also want to get a credit card tied into your primary program to accelerate the points balance in your program and most cards will come with other benefits like free nights, elite status and more.

Utilize bonus offers

One of the easiest ways to earn more points for your hotel stays is to utilize one or more of the many bonus offers doled out by the hotel reward programs. It has become industry standard for the majority of the hotel programs to run system-wide promotions every quarter that offer various rewards like bonus points, gift cards or free nights. The key is to register for them all just in case you are staying in a city that does not have a property from you primary program. As social media expands in the hotel loyalty space, Bartold explains, “hotels are moving some bonuses away from a financial reward (i.e. hotel stay) and rewarding members emotionally with points for engagement actions via social media.” So make sure you are up to date with all the latest social media trends from the hotel companies and as Bartold stresses, keep all your information up to date so that you don’t miss out on any of the offers.

Take advantage of redemption specials

Many of the hotel reward programs run specials for reward night redemptions. Whether it is a 30 percent point discount on full point redemptions or a cash plus points option that a variety of the programs offer, there are numerous choices for members of these programs to redeem for stays and save points or use them when they may not have enough for a regular redemption.